Elite Traveler Winter 2021


Jimmy Chin on risk and reward

Professional alpine climber, photographer and filmmaker Jimmy Chin regularly pushes the limits, taking risks that challenge even his well-honed skills. Here, he shares his strategies and stories with Elite Traveler ’s Roberta Naas

His name may not be a household one — unless you are a fanatical climber or mountain skier — but professional alpinist Jimmy Chin is one of the most prolific and daring climbers in the world . While he regularly takes risks, he is quick to assert that they are always calculated and intentional decisions. Chin is also an avid skier, National Geographic photographer and an Academy Award winning filmmaker. Additionally, he stepped into the role of parenthood a few years ago and most recently became a brand ambassador for Swiss watch brand Panerai. Chin has not only climbed some of the most difficult and dangerous mountains (including Everest), but he has also trekked — on foot — Tibet’s 275-mile, incredibly remote Chang Tang Plateau; he is one of the only people ever to ski off of the summit of

Mount Everest; and is one of only three people (the other two were his ski partners) to have skied the Southeast Ridge route. “I have chosen this profession because I find the best version of myself when the stakes are really high,” says Chin during an interview in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he resides. “Every time you climb, there are lessons to be learned. Oftentimes, it is about facing your fears, overcoming fears — it’s about committing to something even if you are afraid to do it, because it’s the only way you progress. You learn that failure is an absolute necessity to growth, and it has taught me how to look at failures as lessons. People are so afraid to fail, but in climbing it is a process of failures. You try something hard and then you fail, and then you come back again and again and get stronger, better, smarter, more efficient at how

you approach it so that you can succeed.” Caught in several avalanches that he miraculously survived, including a class-4 avalanche in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming in 2011, Chin says he is acutely aware of time and mortality. “When you are a climber, the finiteness of life is always present. That’s how I live my life. Climbing makes it [death] more tangible because, especially in the big mountains, you are faced with a lot of choices; and you have to make a lot of decisions quickly, and so those decisions have to be very intentional. This brings a level of intentionality to life that is very useful. Avalanches and close calls make you think about your mortality, but that helps you in other decisions and it makes me live a fuller life. It also makes me very conscious of time. To me, time is the only true currency. You’re only spending it and you’re not getting it back and you can’t earn more, so you have to use it wisely.” Chin says that when Panerai approached him to create a special watch, he was excited about making something elegant and timeless. “It was just 15 years ago that I was living out of the back of a car so I could climb, and the last thing on my mind was a beautiful timepiece. But the relationship feels really authentic to me, and this is important, especially at this time in my career.” In fact, Panerai made two versions of the Jimmy Chin watch. One was a limited edition of just 14 pieces and was sold with a three-day adventure with Chin in Jackson Hole, climbing the Tetons and wake surfing. His goal there was to push the clients beyond their limits. “A big part of my career is built around pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, but I am very calculated about it,” says Chin, who noted that he pushed the clients just enough so that they could be inspired by their own strength. With all the expeditions he has been on, and all of the failures he has learned from, Chin says his biggest challenge in life was deciding to go against the grain and follow his heart and passion to climb. Chin’s parents were both librarians who raised him to read, but also to do the best at everything he undertook, from playing the violin to competitive swimming and more. While in college he discovered climbing and wanted to make that his life’s work. “It went against everything my very traditional Chinese immigrant parents had in mind for me. They expected me to

“Avalanches and close calls make you think about your mortality, but that helps you in other decisions and it makes me live a fuller life.”

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